Stop the Bug

In the Midwest, homeowners have been annoyed by the Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis, for the past decade. Harmonia is a native of Asia, that has been imported several times into the US for control of aphid pests. It was only in 1988 that the first large populations were found near New Orleans. Since then, large populations have been found throughout the Midwest. The Asian lady beetle is considered a beneficial insect because it feeds on aphid pests of agricultural crops. In West-Central Indiana, populations of Harmonia increase when populations of soybean aphids are high. So what is the problem?

The problem with Harmonia occurs in fall when adults look for overwintering sites. In years with large populations, homeowners can be invaded by hundreds of beetles. However, the beetles are not harmful, they don’t break the skin when they bite and they are easily removed from homes by vacuum cleaner. The beetles can be released outside. Good winterization practices, such as sealing cracks and crevices, can also prevent the beetles from entering a house.

Midwesterner’s problems with Harmonia pale in comparison to problems with another invasive species that is stinking up the East Coast. Halyomorpha halys, the brown marmorated stink bug, is an invasive species from Eastern Asia. It was first reported in Pennsylvania in 2001. Unlike the beneficial Harmonia, Halyomorpha halys is a pest. The stink bugs feed on agricultural crops and fruit. Stink bugs have sucking mouthparts that they use to drill holes in plants and inject saliva. The holes open fruit to fungus and other plant diseases.

Like Harmonia, Halyomorpha halys also shelters in houses during the winter. Unlike Harmonia which is a minor nuisance, the stink bugs produce a foul odor especially when disturbed. Attempts to kill or vacuum the stink bugs will cause a stinky odor to be released. The odor has been described as resembling “sweaty feet”. Getting rid of the stink bugs from inside a house can put a hurt on your nose.

The populations of Halyomorpha halys have reached record levels in much of the East Coast and are generating many complaints. People have stopped complaining about their government and started complaining to their government, specifically members of Congress. Since this is an election year and voting is just around the corner, the Congressmen are asking for action. Taking a break from their usual calls for less government, 15 Congressmen from the affected areas sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture and EPA administrator begging for help.

The USDA has been funding research on this pest for several years and some solutions may be forthcoming. Jeff Aldrich, a USDA researcher who studies insect odors, has developed a trap that may be useful for homeowners trying to keep the bugs out of their houses. Other efforts, such as importing parasitoid wasps that keep the stink bugs under control in their native Asia, are promising but still a couple of years away. More funding to combat the stink bugs may be on the way. There is nothing like a big stink to get Congress to put more money into research.

Harmonia feeding on tree sap

About jjneal

Jonathan Neal is a retired Associate Professor of Entomology at Purdue University and author of the textbook, Living With Insects (2010). This blog is a forum to communicate about the intersection of insects with people and policy. This is a personal blog. The opinions and materials posted here are those of the author and are in no way connected with those of my employer.
This entry was posted in Environment, Invasive Species, Pest Management, Policy. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Stop the Bug

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have posted a picture of the stink bug.

    In response to the article, is Halyomorpha halys as visible and largely populated as Harmonia axyridis? I know my house is FILLED with the little Asian beetles, especially around doors and windows. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stink bug in my house; are they a problem in many households? Or just in general?

    It’s interesting that this is becoming political. I never knew that insect populations were a topic of political converstion.

  2. jjneallwi says:

    The worst outbreaks as I understand it are along the East Coast states from Virginia to New Jersey. Halyomorpha halys has not yet been reported in Indiana unless they come in with the 2010 survey data.

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